Behind-the-Scenes: NMWA Joins the Google Art Project

We were so excited about our March 8 launch on the Google Art Project! A great deal of work went into posting the 59 artworks from NMWA’s collection and the virtual museum tour (and it was a great way to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month!). Here is an insider’s glimpse of the process along with some behind-the-scenes pictures:

Photography of NMWA’s Collection:


Photographer Lee Stalsworth shooting NMWA’s collection; Photo credits: Laura Hoffman

For the Google Art Project, we photographed the selected artworks in extremely high resolution, since a unique facet of the project is its capability to showcase artworks online so that viewers are able to zoom in on hard-to-see details. While our preparator carefully unframed the pieces, art photographer Lee Stalsworth went to great lengths to capture the artworks perfectly, including using a new, state-of-the-art camera, testing the light and color balance with meters, and adjusting the photography environment with light reflectors.

Gigapixel Photo-shoot:


Google team captures “gigapixel” image (left), artwork detail (right); Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Google photographed one of the artworks, Rachel Ruysch’s Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge (ca. 1680s), using “gigapixel” photo-capturing technology. The image contains around 7 billion pixels, enabling users to become immersed in the artwork’s details, even those that are invisible to the naked eye. Even the smallest movements, vibrations, or light can throw off the complicated process of capturing the “gigapixel” photograph. Zoom in for yourself on the artwork to find all the insects, flora, and grains of pollen!

Museum View Virtual Tour:


Google team moving through the museum with the “trolley;” Photo credits: Laura Hoffman

NMWA staff also worked with a team at Google to create a virtual tour of the museum, called the Museum View. This feature allows people to explore our galleries online, select artworks that interest them, click to discover more, and dive into high-resolution images, where available. Google’s specially-designed Street View “trolley” took 360-degree images of selected galleries, which were then digitally stitched together to create smooth navigation within the museum.

We hope you enjoy our work in the Google Art Project—stay tuned as we add more artworks and galleries to the Google Art Project in the future!

—Laura Hoffman is the digital media specialist at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Including the Excluded: NMWA’s Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

The internet has become one of the most readily used resources for answers to myriad questions. A quick Google keyword search will often land a Wikipedia link for inquiring minds to find out more. In fact, let’s do a quick experiment. Pull up another window of your browser of choice. Visit Google and type in “Joan Semmel”—a notable feminist artist who works primarily with erotic self-portraits. After her artist site and gallery, one of the top links is her Wikipedia page. However, just more than a month ago that page did not exist. It was created here, at NMWA, with NMWA resources and by volunteers with a strong desire to ensure that as digital history is (re)written it includes women’s contributions.

“Wikipedia is often the first stop for people doing any research on the web, so it’s extremely important to have good articles written with reliable materials from our museum’s library to ensure these artists are included in this international digital encyclopedia,” said Heather Slania, director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at NMWA. “Many of the women artists featured on Wikipedia have incomplete or unverified articles. For those without articles at all, like Semmel, it is about creating and increasing an online presence for their work and contributions in a history that has conveniently left them out.”

Semmel’s Wikipedia page was one of 101 articles created for women artists at last month’s Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. NMWA was one of 31 venues in six countries participating in this global initiative dedicated to creating a more gender-balanced Wikipedia. In all, nearly 20 individuals attended the edit-a-thon at NMWA, creating 10 new articles and expanding upon an additional 11 articles.

“Part of our mission at the library is to facilitate knowledge creation about the history and achievements of women artists worldwide. These significant contributions to Wikipedia’s postings help fulfill those goals while also furthering knowledge about women artists,” Slania said.

At the 2014 Feminism and Arts Edit-a-thon, DC Wikimedians at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center; Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At the 2014 Feminism and Arts Edit-a-thon, DC Wikimedians at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center; Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The gender bias in Wikipedia’s male-dominated articles and editors has been acknowledged after several studies, and recent articles suggest that 90 percent of the website’s editors are male. As more people turn to Wikipedia for information, these edit-a-thons help shrink the gender gap, but there are still issues to be addressed.

As Slania notes, “Part of the problem with Wikipedia relates to notability. Posts on individuals require a certain level of celebrity, which a good deal of women artists have traditionally been denied. Women were excluded from art shows and text books and their achievements were not recorded. How do you include someone who has been excluded?”

The next Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at NMWA will be on March 30, 2014. Interested participants should register in advance, and editors at all levels of expertise are encouraged to participate—from first-time Wikipedia editors to published art historians. Visit our website for more information. Or, just Google us.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Common Threads: Staff Quilt Stories

In honor of National Quilting Month and NMWA’s current exhibition “Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts, NMWA staff members share their quilt stories and memories:

“I didn’t know there were quilters in my family until after ‘Workt by Hand’ opened. I mentioned to my mother that it felt strange not having a quilt story, and that’s when I learned that my great-grandmother, Rossie Webber, was an award-winning quilter. Her double wedding ring quilt won first prize at the Cleveland County Fair in North Carolina, ca. 1941.”—Ashley, Assistant Educator

Ashley's quilt (left) and Stephanie's (right)

Ashley’s quilt (left) and Stephanie’s (right)

“My aunt took up quilting when she and her husband bought a farm in Indiana. She had no ties to the area but figured quilting would be a good way to assimilate into ‘farm life.’ She made quilts for me and each of my sisters to mark our 16th birthdays, customizing them to our individual tastes. Knowing nothing about quilts then, I was so impressed with my aunt’s quilt when I received it with its multi-colored patches in a seemingly random array of mismatched pieces. Now having seen Workt By Hand’, I can attribute my quilt to taking after the Crazy Quilt genre. It’s crazy and bright, and I love it.” —Stephanie, Curatorial Assistant

AIDS Memorial Quilt; Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

AIDS Memorial Quilt; Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“The most memorable quilt to me is the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Not only has the quilt been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but it is also the largest community art project in the world and has been traveling the globe since its inaugural display in Washington, D.C., in 1987. Today, the quilt in its entirety includes over 48,000 individual three-by-six-foot memorial panels, most of which commemorate the life of someone who has died of AIDS.”—Gordon, Director of Operations

Quilts that Laura received for her Bat Mitzvah (left) and at birth

Laura’s quilts from Kathy

“A family friend, Kathy, made my sister and me quilts for major milestones in our life (birth, Bat Mitzvah, etc.) Each quilt was specific to both the person and the occasion, and they were always inscribed, ‘Love, Kathy.’ They are among the few gifts I distinctly remember receiving, and I have cherished them over the years. Though Kathy passed away this year, I still sleep under her quilt when I visit home, and I feel connected to her.”—Laura, Digital Media Specialist

Ginny's family quilt

Ginny’s family quilt

“My mother’s quilt, which currently lives in my office in honor of the ‘Workt by Hand’ exhibition, came from my great-great Aunt Fanny and Uncle Bob Thompson who lived in McHenry, Illinois. We think it dates from the 1920s, and it was most likely part of her wedding trousseau. I believe my grandmother received the quilt after Uncle Bob passed away in the 1980s.”—Ginny, Associate Curator

Do you have a quilt story to share? Add it to the comments section below, or comment on NMWA’s other social media sites—thank you!

Lending Color to Quilts

In Clues in the Calico: A Guide to Identifying and Dating Antique Quilts, Barbara Brackman discusses the ways in which certain characteristics of a quilt can disclose important information on its origins and the time is was made. In addition to dating quilts through their style and patterns, she also dates them in a more scientific way through their dyestuff.

Pictorial Quilt, ca. 1840; Cotton and cotton thread, 67 ¾ x 85 ½ in.; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Franklin Chace, 44.173.1; Photography by Gavin Ashworth, 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Pictorial Quilt, ca. 1840; Cotton and cotton thread, 67 ¾ x 85 ½ in.; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Franklin Chace, 44.173.1; Photography by Gavin Ashworth, 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The book talks about two types of dyes: natural dyes and synthetic dyes. Natural dyes are extracted from natural substances such as animals, plants, and minerals, and generally need the help of a substance, called a mordant, that allows the color of the dye to adhere to the actual fabric. On the other hand, synthetic dyes are human-manufactured and came into prominence in last half of the 19th century. At the time, most of them were imported from Germany, which held internationally-honored patents for their dyes. It was not until after World War I (when the German patents were awarded to Americans) that the American dye industry began to thrive.

Brackman illustrates that both natural and early synthetic dyes were difficult to work with. Often, the dyes were not as colorfast as quilters would have liked, and they would slowly begin to fade. This made conservation difficult, especially if the maker intended to pass a quilt on to future generations. To add to this, many types of dye, especially ones with iron or tin mordants, can deteriorate the fabric itself, again causing problems for conservation.

Star of Bethlehem Quilt, ca. 1830; Cotton, 95 x 95 ½ in.; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Alice Bauer Frankenberg; 59.151.7; Photography by Gavin Ashworth, 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Star of Bethlehem Quilt, ca. 1830; Cotton, 95 x 95 ½ in.; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Alice Bauer Frankenberg; 59.151.7; Photography by Gavin Ashworth, 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Until the first half of the 19th century, green dye was specifically difficult to both produce and manage. Many quilters had to perform a painstaking double-dyeing process that consisted of first dyeing the fabric yellow and then dyeing it again with indigo or Prussian blue, or vice versa. The final product was a vivid green color many quilters referred to as “poison green.” According to Brackman, single-process synthetic dyes came after 1860 and were able to provide quilters with a much simpler process. However, many of these later synthetic dyes were not as colorfast, especially when exposed to light, and ended up fading to beige.

Although the color of a quilt can play a major role in its aesthetic value, not many people realize how useful the condition of the dye really is to justifying the historical significance of a quilt. Changes in the process of dyeing fabrics and the ingredients used in dyestuff parallel the chemical and technological advancements of the time. These facts can not only help date a quilt, but can also help in informing the quilt’s conservation.

—Kyla Crisostomo is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

To learn more about quilts, as well as the people who created them and the ways society saw them, visit “Workt by Hand” at NMWA, on view through April 27!

Women in Arts Leadership—Who’s Counting?

On the heels of a recent Washington Post article that lauded the impressive number of women museum directors in the D.C. area (including NMWA’s Susan Fisher Sterling), the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) released a new report discussing the persistent gender gap in museum leadership.

AAMD-reportSpecifically, although the AAMD report, based on a survey of members, noted that great progress has been made—women held 42.6% of director positions at the museums surveyed, a significant increase over previous years—large discrepancies remain in certain areas. In large museums (those with annual budgets over $15 million) women make up 24% of directors, and only five of 33 museums with budgets over $20 million have women directors.

Viewed through salary, the data tell a similar story of pervasive disparity, particularly at large museums. Overall, “female art museum directors earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by male art museum directors,” according to the AAMD. At small-to-midsize museums with budgets under $15 million, compensation seemed comparable between genders, with women slightly out-earning men, at $1.02 to each dollar earned by male directors. At museums with budgets over $15 million, however, women earned just 71 cents for each dollar earned by male directors.

The AAMD report dug in further, noting that salary differences correlated with the jobs that directors had held previously, and whether they were hired from an external search or promoted from within an institution. (Men were more likely than women to have been directors previously and to have been hired from outside, both factors connected to higher salaries.) In a New York Times article that summarized the report, several women directors commented on their individual experiences, and consultants shared intriguing perspectives on searching for and hiring museum directors.

As the AAMD says, “The art within our great museums reflects and shapes our culture…. [Museum directors] have an unrivalled platform to influence the role that art plays in our society.” The group advocates increasing diversity—in gender as well as race and ethnicity, which were not addressed in detail in this report—to ensure that a greater array of stories are told through museums’ art, programs, and communities.

But . . . what about that great Washington Post article, and all the women directors in the spotlight?

It seems like D.C.’s climate is indeed one to celebrate, but there is still progress to be made.

Download the full AAMD report here.

Demystifying Amish Quilts

Although their roots have been attributed to different cultures, Amish quilts are regarded by many as “quintessentially American.” In Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon, Janneken Smucker investigates this claim and talks specifically about the Hmong, many of whom immigrated to Pennsylvania and changed the Amish quilt trade some thirty years ago.

In the 1970s many Hmong fled to the United States after the Southeast Asian War. They left their refugee camps in Thailand and resettled into their new homes with the help of the Mennonite Church. Hmong communities began to grow in California, Minnesota, Washington, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

As a source of income, many Hmong women decided to sew and sell their native textiles. Paj ntaub—translated as “Flower Cloth”—is a popular Hmong textile that requires expert skill for its intricate designs, which are symbolic in the Hmong culture and resemble natural forms. The creation of these textiles uses many similar techniques to quilt-making. For example, three textile practices used in the making of paj ntaub are embroidery, batik, and appliqué, which is the practice of applying smaller pieces of fabric to a larger piece to create patterns.

Bars Quilt, ca. 1890, Pennsylvania; Cotton and wool, 83 x 82 in.; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. H. Peter Findlay, 77.122.3; Photography by Gavin Ashworth, 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Bars Quilt, ca. 1890, Pennsylvania; Cotton and wool, 83 x 82 in.; Brooklyn Museum,
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. H. Peter Findlay, 77.122.3; Photography by Gavin Ashworth,
2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

While Hmong immigrants all over the country earned income from producing paj ntaub, those in Southeastern Pennsylvania soon realized that there was a more sizeable market for Amish quilts, especially prevalent in Lancaster County. In the nineteenth century, many Amish quilts—including some currently on view at NMWA in “Workt by Hand”, such as Bars Quilt, 1890—remained monochromatic geometric forms pieced together in creative ways. By the twentieth century, Smucker mentions that Amish women expanded their quilt pattern repertoire to cater to their market. In the 1980s, “The Country Bride”—a relatively difficult appliqué pattern—began growing in popularity, and the Amish found great skill in Hmong women due to their expertise in appliqué. Similarly, Smucker states that Hmong quilt seamstresses could create ten quilts in one day that could be sold for $25 each, while a paj ntaub for the same price could take up to a week to create. For these reasons, many Hmong women in Pennsylvania ceased making paj ntaub and instead adapted their skills to work as seamstresses of Amish quilts.

From there, Smucker illustrates that a great deal of outsourcing began to occur. Amish women would outsource the work to Hmong seamstresses in the United States, and these Hmong seamstresses would then outsource the work to impoverished families in Thai refugee camps who were not aware of where the quilts were from or where they will ultimately end up.

Like “Workt by Hand”, which aims to debunk quilting myths, Janneken Smucker’s book demystifies the “quintessentially American” nature of Amish quilts.

—Kyla Crisostomo is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Also, click here for information about NMWA’s April 24 talk and book signing by author and quilt historian Janneken Smucker.

Washington Post Features Women Arts Leaders

It began with a simple discussion between NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling, Washington Post Arts Reporter Katherine Boyle, and me about the increasing number of women in leadership roles within Washington, D.C. cultural organizations. It culminated in a Washington Post print feature with group photo; web article, including individual leader profiles and photos; and video in the Emmy-award winning “On Leadership” series.

On Tuesday, January 21, with the Federal Government and NMWA closed due to an impending snow storm, an historic photo and video shoot arranged by the Washington Post took place at NMWA. Sixteen journalists and representatives from D.C. museums arrived at NMWA before the snow began to fall.

On January 21, a group of women museum directors, supporting staff members, and journalists gathered at NMWA; Photography by Joseph Marvin

On January 21, a group of women museum directors, supporting staff members, and journalists gathered at NMWA; Photography by Joseph Marvin

In an atmosphere of infectious energy, a group photo of eight women leaders included Sara Bloomfield, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Elizabeth Broun, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery; Susan Fisher Sterling, the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Camille Giraud Akeju, the Anacostia Community Museum; Judy A. Greenberg, the Kreeger Museum; Peggy Loar, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design; Kate Markert, the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens; and Kim Sajet, the National Portrait Gallery. In addition, individual portraits were shot and video clips on leadership recorded.

On Sunday, March 2, a group photo by photographer Joseph Marvin ran as an impressive horizontal, full-color cover across the front of the Style section. Art Reporter Katherine Boyle wrote an insightful feature that sets the stage for additional progress for women leaders in the arts, while discussing what it took for them to get where they are today, the challenges for women of color in leadership positions, and work-life balance. In addition, there were great individual profiles and photos of the eight leaders who were photographed, as well as of Doreen Bolger, the Baltimore Museum of Art; Johnnetta Betsch Cole, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art; Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, the American Visionary Art Museum; Dorothy Kosinski, the Phillips Collection; and Julia Marciari-Alexander, The Walters Art Museum.

Click here to read the Post’s feature.

—Amy Mannarino is the manager of communications and marketing at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.